When Sex Goes to School

The Worldviews of Sex Ed
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.

If you ever want a truly Herculean task, I can’t think of a harder one than diving into the sex education debate in this country and sorting through all the views and claims of both sides. But that’s exactly what sociologist Kristin Luker has done with her new book, When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex—and Sex Education—Since the Sixties.

Luker deserves full credit for tackling this tough subject and for doing her research so thoroughly that the book took two decades to complete. And she deserves extra credit for coming as close to an objective view of the issue as anyone I’ve ever seen. Although Luker is no conservative on sexual issues, she’s light years away from the pundits and researchers who consider the Christian viewpoint beneath contempt. Instead, she takes both sides seriously and is even willing to acknowledge many of the truths inherent in traditional views of sexuality.

In doing so, Luker gets to the very heart of the sex education debate in a way that few other social scientists have, because she discovers that the debate is not just about sex. What it’s really about is worldview.

“Sexual conservatives,” Luker explains, “ . . . believe that humans are fundamentally capable of the worst, and that it is only the combined power of an internal morality and external constraints that keeps most of us on the straight-and-narrow most of the time.” And this, she shows, is why we argue for “firm structures” and the teaching of moral boundaries. On the other hand, she says, “sexual liberals see a world in which the only way a diverse and heterogeneous group of people can be trusted to make good moral decisions is to ensure that all of them have the maximum amount of information possible.” So sexual liberals fight to give children as much sexual information as possible as early as possible, thinking “that if their children are given education and information, they will grow up to be morally good adults.”

Luker’s observations are right on. As we Christians would phrase it, one side believes in the sin nature, and the other side does not. This insight raises some deeply troubling ideas and questions. For one thing, it suggests that the divide over the issue is even wider and deeper than many realize. It’s not just that we can’t agree on the best way to reach our goals regarding teens and sexuality; it’s that we don’t even have the same goals. We very likely never will, unless we can reach people at a fundamental level, in a way that changes their hearts and minds.

There are a lot of good reasons to read When Sex Goes to School, including a fascinating exploration of the beginnings of formal sex education (very different than what you might think) and some profound thoughts on just how closely the issue of marriage is tied to sex education.

But the best reason to read Luker’s work is this treatment of worldviews at the root of the conflict. Obviously, you’re not going to agree with Luker on everything, but what she will give you is a necessary understanding of what’s really at stake here. It’s not just a question of the body, but of the deepest beliefs of the mind, heart, and soul.


From BreakPoint®, February 12, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries